Brave New World

Marion Michielsen, Johan Upmark and baby Oscar

Dutch bridge superstar Marion Michielsen, who has enjoyed tremendous success in Women’s and mixed pairs play, is charting a course for the open waters. The longstanding anchor of the Dutch Women’s team is developing a new partnership and looking to break through to the Open Team of her new home country even as she balances the new demands of motherhood.

Michielsen grew up in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. She says her father was a “decent” player when he was younger, so they had a lot of bridge literature around the home. She started to play when she was 13. “I didn’t take any lessons, but I would read all the books and magazines I could get my hands on.”

Her younger brother learned the game at the same time. After she and Thomas won a U15 team championship, they joined the Dutch Junior program. Marion explained that the Dutch program selects players for additional training sessions, and these sessions were key in stoking her interest in bridge.

“These were the first bridge lessons I ever had, but even more important was that I got to know a lot of peers who enjoyed the same game.” One of the players she admired growing up was Zia Mahmood.

Marion says she loves the combination of competitive and social aspects. “Every hand is a puzzle and often there are many possibilities. I think the mindset that is required to play bridge is quite comparable to learning both law and a new language. If you would only learn a small part of the game, it wouldn’t be of much use; you need to understand the whole picture to find the best solution.”

Michielsen wins an Oscar
Marion, who holds a law degree, moved to Sweden 5-1/2 years ago to join life mate Johan Upmark, also a world-class bridge player. Michielsen and Upmark celebrated a special birthday on Feb. 4 when they greeted their own bridge junior: son Oscar. At birth, Oscar weighed in at 6.6 pounds, 20 inches.

“Oscar is a very happy and easy baby unless he is tired,” the new mom says. “I had quite a relaxed life before, and now it is a lot more planning, of course, but totally worth it. He can laugh and giggle really loud. It’s impossible not to get very happy when I see him.”

Her move to Sweden impacted the highly successful partnership Marion has enjoyed with Meike Wortel since 2004.

“Since I moved to Sweden I have fewer opportunities to play with Meike,” says Marion. “Also, it feels like it is time for the next step in my career: to make the move from Women’s bridge to the open.”

New systems go
Michielsen is building a new partnership with Swedish star Per-Ola Cullin. Their goal is high: a position on the perennially favored Swedish Open team.

“Per-Ola is a world champion,” she says, “winning the World Mind Games in 2012. He also lives in Stockholm, so we can play regularly at the clubs and tournaments and the Swedish championships.”

At the European Championships this year, the Swedish team was Upmark–Fredrik Nystrom, Mikael Rimstedt–Ola Rimstedt and Simon Ekenberg–Simon Hult. The squad finished fourth in the tough Bermuda Bowl qualifying trials, earning one of Europe’s eight berths to play in Sanya, China, next year.

“Upmark-Nystrom have been one of the leading pairs from the Swedish team for a long time,” says Michielsen, “and the other two pairs are young and playing a lot of bridge. They are already very good pairs and improving quickly.”

She recognizes that being selected by the captain to play won’t be easy. “At the moment there are six pairs competing for three spots, but I am confident we will make it, if not next year, some other year. I really want to prove myself in the open scene and will work hard to make it there.”

Michielsen, who played a natural system with transfer responses over 1♣ with Wortel, is learning a new bidding language in her partnership with Cullin.

“Per-Ola is a big fan of strong club, a system that I had not played before. I felt like I wanted to give it a try. Even if I didn’t like playing it, it would give me good insight on the problems and possibilities that strong club players encounter, which is valuable when I meet opponents that play it.”

Another reason to smile
Michielsen’s plans for the World Championships this fall include defending both titles she won in the 2014 World Series. “That was an amazing tournament for me, winning two world titles in two weeks,” she says.

First, she climbed to the top step of the mixed teams podium with Zia, Anita Sinclair–Nafiz Zorlu, and Sabine Auken–Roy Welland. After that, she shared the Women’s winner’s circle with Wortel, Lynn Baker–Karen McCallum, and Sally Brock–Nicola Smith.

“I think both wins were really a team performance, where we were all supporting each other and fighting for every match,” Michielsen says. “I think the team spirit has helped us to win both events and thinking back about the wins will always put a big smile on my face.”

In Orlando, Michielsen says, “I will be playing the mixed teams with Zia. He and I have played together on and off for several years and it is always a great pleasure and adventure to play with him.”

Michielsen and Upmark play some bridge together, but not often. “But we talk a lot of bridge together and understand each other very well. We have also done hours and hours of bidding practice together when Per-Ola and I started to play strong club because Johan and his partner play the same system.

Unfortunately, we sometimes fight over bridge hands if we play too often, and don’t want to make our relationship about bridge results. To me it would be perfect if we could play on the same team, with different partners.”

The pair won a silver medal playing together in the Mixed Teams at the 2017 European Open Championships in Montecatini, Italy, and have a date booked for the same event in 2019.

Marion has two Women’s teams NABC titles playing with Wortel, and she won the Nail Life Master Pairs in 2016 playing with Zia Mahmood. She is back in action here in Atlanta, playing with Cullin on Phyllis Fireman’s Spingold squad.